I facilitated 2 senior management meetings recently. Both were attended by intact teams comprising fewer than 10 people i.e. a small group. One was about strategy planning and another about problem solving.
I am delighted with the feedback that both events enabled the participants to have open and honest discussion. Most participants commented that they saw the others speaking up openly and willing to challenge each other!
I was reflecting what made them speak up, and more importantly how I contributed. It came down to the realization I had during my ARL experience. It is about one of the key roles played by facilitators. The facilitators are to enable ‘safe’ conversation with conscious use of space and time.
More specifically, I think the followings re space and time have helped:
Pre-event dinner – For one of the meetings, the participants and I had dinner the night before the event. I facilitated loosely for all of us to share personal stories. This worked well.
Room set up – I arranged both meetings in chairs-in-circle-shape. No table. It is amazing how people will participate more and better in this setting. Unconsciously they left their mobile devices and laptops behind, and they became fully ‘exposed’ into the meetings.
Reflection time – I slowed down the discussion from time to time. I allocated time for each to first write down ideas on paper with specific questions before they jumped into group discussion.
Breakout group – There were fewer than 10 people in each meeting. Not a big size. I was once hesitated whether I need to split them up for smaller group discussion. I did it and I found it that it helped. First, each participated better in a 3-4 people group. More importantly, they loosened themselves more when setting changed. They moved around and spoke more freely. It is important to change the configuration from time to time.